11th October, 2010
Last Fridayâ€™s revelation that the Federal Government intends to spend about N14 billionÂ on pilgrims to Saudi Arabia came as a rude shock to most right-thinking Nigerians.Â Sources at the Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, stated that out of the estimatedÂ 95,000 pilgrims that will take part in this yearâ€™s pilgrimage, the Federal GovernmentÂ plans to sponsor 26,235 of them. The sources added that it will cost between N460,000 andÂ N540,000 to sponsor each of the 26,235 pilgrims for the 2010 Hajj.
In the face of the nationâ€™s other crippling problems, we think this is one profligacy tooÂ many. Education is in shambles, industrialistsÂ are moving out of Nigeria, kidnappers areÂ having a field day just as the Niger Delta militants are crying foul and threatening toÂ go back to the creeks, over 70% of the population live below poverty level, so says theÂ United Nations, and here we are, after spending a colossal sum to celebrate our 50thÂ independence anniversary, we want to sponsor some people on a pilgrimage.
In a secular state such as ours, we believe the issue of religion is a personal thing andÂ as such, should be put on the back burner. The state should never use our collectiveÂ wealth to sponsor just one group of people, whether Muslims or Christians on pilgrimage.Â If the Federal thinks otherwise, it might as well sponsor Shango worshippers to SouthÂ America on a pilgrimage.
In a country where basic health facilities are lacking and life expectancy has plunged toÂ 47, where literacy level is put at between 31-59 per cent, where cholera still ravagesÂ parts of the country and people die in their hundreds, what reasonable government wouldÂ spend billions to sponsor people on a personal journey to Jerusalem or Saudi Arabia?
If half of the N14 billion is spent on sinking boreholes across Nigeria, we all know whatÂ it would mean to the recipient communities. If some of this billions is used to patch upÂ the Benin-Ore highway, we all know what impact it would make but it does not seem thatÂ our leaders and policy makers think this way.
If it has been the tradition of successive governments to sponsor pilgrimages, it is timeÂ to stop the wasteful exercise; weâ€™ve had enough of waste. At 50, Nigeria ought to lookÂ back and see where we have been found wanting and move to correct such costly mistakes.
We must start to think of ways of solving our problems and put a stop to profligacy. IfÂ philanthropists want to sponsor millions of people on pilgrimages, let them do so. TheÂ state should not do it for any a reason at all. Governors should go on their pilgrimagesÂ with their personal funds and stop using state funds to sponsor their families, croniesÂ and party loyalits on wasteful trips.
Taking a critical look at Nigeria, it seems things are on a downward slide. No newÂ factories are springing up, unemployment is still on the rise, infant mortality rate isÂ still as bad as 10 years ago, Nigerians now make do with supplying their own electricityÂ and water, and yet we call ourselves the giant of Africa. We believe Nigeria can riseÂ again. All we need are visionary leaders who know what to do. It is time the NationalÂ Assembly picked up the constitution and took a more critical look at areas where itÂ encourages waste and expunged them. The National Assembly, the most expensive in theÂ whole world, debates nothing but their allowances and salaries. The laws, for which theyÂ were elected or rigged into office to enact,Â are no longer a matter of debate, exceptÂ where they affect them negatively. So the waste goes on.
Most of those in office today attended school through scholarships awarded by the FederalÂ Government. Sadly today, funds which ought to be used to educate indigent students areÂ frittered away on expensive trips by government officials on pilgrimages that meanÂ nothing to the average Nigerian. This must stop now.